Volume 78, Number 52 | June 3 - 9, 2009

West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933

A Salute to Volunteers

A special Villager supplement

Villager photos by Jefferson Siegel

Above, Norma Jimenez, a Sixth Precinct auxiliary police officer, scraped debris off the base of a lamppost at Bleecker St. and Sixth Ave. on Saturday as part of BAMRA’s cleanup. West Villager David Danzig cleaned stickers and tape off an emergency call box at Bleecker and Thompson Sts.; right, Marlo Rivera, a West Village building superintendent, applied silver paint to a newly cleaned lamppost on Bleecker St. at Sixth Ave.

Lending a hand, and some elbow grease, on Bleecker

By Jefferson Siegel

In the 1960s President John F. Kennedy made public service a cornerstone initiative of his administration. And, to underscore the importance of volunteering, poet Maya Angelou once said, “You shouldn’t go through life with a catcher’s mitt on both hands. You need to be able to throw something back.”

A prime example of volunteerism was on display last Saturday morning when members of BAMRA, the Bleecker Area Merchants’ and Residents’ Association, eschewed sleeping late or taking a beach day. Instead, a group of concerned locals met under the marquee of the old Circle in the Square theater, where they were given scrapers, paintbrushes and bagels. Their mission, which they chose to accept, was to rescue several Village blocks from an onslaught of graffiti and stickers.

“It’s my home,” said Judith Callet, BAMRA’s resident chairperson and a Village resident since 1972. “If we can keep the area clean, that helps business, and people will come back.”

The West Village has long been a popular tourist destination but late-night crowds often leave behind more than just money in area cash registers. Graffiti and a plague of stickers have found their way onto almost every lamppost and wall. Because of this unsightly invasion, BAMRA decided to fight back, starting a yearly cleanup in 1993.

Norma Jimenez, who lives in Queens, was up bright and early this sunny morning, scraping detritus off the base of a lamppost on Bleecker St. at Sixth Ave.

“I have a lot of friends in this area and I spend a lot of time in this area,” Jimenez said as the last remnants of a sticky flier fell in shreds to the street.

A Sixth Precinct volunteer auxiliary police officer, Jimenez described a bond she feels with the neighborhood.

“I love the bars and the restaurants,” she said.

Taking a break from scraping, she admitted her efforts go beyond finding the perfect mai tai.

“With Barack Obama as president, I want to give back,” she explained. “That was his advice and I really took it to heart. If you have children, be an example to them, it makes a difference,” she said before lifting her scraper to attack another sticker-filled surface.

Nearby, Marlo Rivera, a West Village building superintendent for 18 years, slowly applied a fresh coat of silver paint to a lamppost.

“It’s support; we’re a part of the community,” he said.

At this early hour there were few local merchants around to express their appreciation, but BAMRA’s Callet said the group has many new merchant members.

Callet also admitted the obvious.

“After we paint it up, it’ll be graffitied again within an hour,” she lamented. “But, it’s still my home,” she added as another volunteer arrived and took a paintbrush and a donut.

BAMRA is a nonprofit community organization representing residents and merchants of the Bleecker St. area, bounded by W. Third and Houston Sts. between Mercer St. and Sixth Ave. In addition to the cleanup, they plant greenery, organize street fairs and are active in local issues.

BAMRA meets the second Wednesday of every month at the AIA Center at 536 LaGuardia Place. They can be reached at bamranyc@yahoo.com.

Also sponsoring Saturday’s cleanup was the Sixth Precinct Community Council.

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